Michel Schneider

Big Mother The Psychopathology of Political Life Publication date : March 1, 2002

“For twenty years, politicians have been going on about changing our lives and, all of a sudden, they seem to have realised that they could reap political advantage by embodying the sort of maternal State that lends a sympathetic ear to its children. And so, when addressing upright citizens, politicians now put women and children first. They talk about changing France as a mother talks about changing her baby’s nappies. What remains of the public sphere? Today’s buzz words are emergencies and local responses, crisis cells and elected grass-roots representatives. We are witnessing the dissolution of the political sphere, which has become, as de Tocqueville feared, an insurance against the toil of thought and the pains of existence. The Leisure State behaves like those mothers who cannot stand to think that their children can play by themselves, and insist on keeping them busy. These watchguard-mothers have put France on a total detoxification programme. The nation must be cleansed of everything: cigarettes, secrets, gender differences, dangers of all sorts, MBMs (meat-and-bone meals), genetically modified organisms, male chauvinism, death, freshmen ragging, sexual come-ons, corruption, racism, sexually transmitted diseases, and the father’s surname. Thus deafened by the cacophony of so many meaningless words, I have decided to contemplate and question our contemporary stupidity. And in order to try to understand my country and my time, I have turned to Freud’s writings as the most useful in the present situation. Among the ills of politics, some are pathological. Yet the present book should not be regarded as a treatise, or even as an essay of applied psychoanalysis, but as a diary kept by a psychoanalyst who has recorded what afflicts and repulses, rather than his theories and interpretations. Though I admit that I have often laughed at the anger expressed here, I haven’t found much in the spirit of the age to make me smile.”
Michel Schneider.

A psychoanalyst, Michel Schneider was formerly a director of music and dance at the Ministry of Culture. He is the author of La Comédie de la culture and numerous other works on music, including Glenn Gould, piano solo and Schumann, la tombée du jour. His recent publications are Prima donna and Musiques de nuit.